MEMBERS of the joint select committee of Parliament examining the Integrity Commission Act have expressed concern over the long time it is taking that body to certify some of the statutory declarations it has received.
The case which has attracted the most public interest surrounds Prime Minister Andrew Holness whose statutory declarations for the past two years have not yet been published in the National Gazette by the Integrity Commission (IC) as required by law, once they are certified.
During Thursday’s meeting of the parliamentary committee there was no reference to Holness, but members, led by Chairman Edmund Bartlett, argued that there must be a timeline for the IC to complete its certification of statutory declarations.
“A declarant could be held up indefinitely and go through all sorts of trauma and trepidation, painful, emotional experiences, awaiting a certification,” said Bartlett who is also the minister of tourism.
“I believe there is need for some timeline to be attached to the certification of declarations so as to enable all parties concerned to be fairly and justly dealt with,” added Bartlett, who told the committee that he knows people who have been waiting for years to have their declarations certified.
“As a matter of fact, there are individuals who I know who have not had a certification of their declaration and they have made five years of declaration. So I think we do need to look at that to say, within two years, within three years, within one year, whatever,” Bartlett said during a discussion on an amendment to Section 32 of the IC Act.
Committee member Delroy Chuck, who read the proposed amendment, had earlier argued that it is unfair for people to respond to any questions from the IC about their statutory declarations and remain in limbo for a long time while they are not certified.
“I think once they have enquired of the declarant, which they do, and there are no further enquiries of the declarant, there is no reason why they should not certify it,” argued Chuck, who is the justice minister.
He admitted that the IC could need to make checks to satisfy itself that the information on the declaration is accurate, but argued that once these checks are complete the person should be given the all clear.
“At a certain point [after they have made their checks] and they have enquired of the declarant, then they certify it. If the last inquiry of the declarant is six months, then they must certify that the declaration is in conformity with the Act,” added Chuck.
Opposition Senator Donna Scott Mottley agreed with the need for a timeline for the IC to indicate that a declaration has been certified.
“It is really absurd that for years you don’t know and then suddenly all these enquiries are made when you are compromised in your position as to how to respond to them,” said Scott Mottley.
In joining the expressions of concerns, committee member Julian Robinson argued that the problem is the lack of communication between the IC and the declarant who is left in the dark on whether the statutory declaration had been certified.
“The mischief we are trying to solve is the lack of communication and there should be communication one way or the other. If you cannot certify, then you need to indicate ‘We cannot certify and we are continuing our checks’ or whatever. That is what we are trying to solve,” Robinson said.
The IC is yet to indicate the reasons for the non-gazetting of the prime minister’s statutory declarations for the past two years and in his only comment Holness has said he is also not aware of what has caused the delay.
The committee is to revisit the issue of a timeline for the IC to rule on statutory declarations during one of its next meetings.